Homeric Nēpios

  Use the following persistent identifier: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_EdmundsS.Homeric_Nepios.1990.

4. Adults

In Chapter Three, I proposed that the word nēpios expresses the very limitations that can be overcome, in certain symbolic frameworks, through initiation rituals—namely, childhood, ignorance, and what Eliade calls “the profane condition.” The subject of that chapter was children; in the Homeric language (or world view) children, as a class, are nēpios. All who are nēpios are not children, however. This chapter discusses adults who are called nēpios. They are adults who are disconnected from the past and, especially, the future. As in the case of children who are nēpios, this disconnection is both mental (they do not have foresight) and social (their lack of foresight almost always has fatal consequences; it disconnects them from the fellowship of the living). Their lack of foresight is sometimes the result of what we would call simple ignorance; sometimes it is a matter of being out of touch with the wishes or plans of the gods.

These two distinctions, between mental and social disconnections, and between ignorance and the profane condition as the cause of them, are primarily a convenience for organizing this discussion. They reflect categories of my language and thought rather than anything within the Homeric language. Every nēpios is socially and mentally disconnected, and every nēpios, including those who are children, lacks both knowledge and divine revelation.

Social Disconnections

An obvious form of social disconnection is death. The following list includes all places in the Iliad and Odyssey where the word nēpios (and its derivative nēputios) are used of adults. Those instances are starred in which the person so called is about to die.

II 38 Agamemnon, who does not know that the dream from Zeus is false

II 873* of Nastes, the leader of the Karians, whose gold would not save him from destruction {60|61}

V 406* of Diomedes (Dione’s words), who did not know that those who fight against the gods will not live long

VII 401 Even a nēpios would know that Troy is about to be destroyed.

VIII 177* of the Achaians, who made walls that would not last

XII 113* of Asios, who refuses the advice not to attack the Achaian walls with his horses. He dies soon thereafter.

XII 127* of the men of Asios, who follow him in his ill-fated attack

XIII 292 those who stand talking when there is a battle to be fought (nēputios)

XV 104* of the gods, who think they can oppose Zeus (they will not die, of course, but be thrown into Tartaros)

XVI 46* of Patroklos, who is asking for his own death

XVI 686* of Patroklos, who does not follow the advice of Achilles

XVI 833* of Patroklos, who thought he could overcome Hektor

XVII 32* of the person who understands something only after it is done. In this case the “thing that is done” is the death of the person who is being addressed.

XVII 236* of Hektor’s men, who battle against Ajax and are killed

XVII 497* of Chromios and Aretos, whom Automedon is about to kill.

XVII 629 Even a nēpios would know that Zeus is helping the Trojans.

XVIII 295 Hektor calls Poulydamas nēpios because he advises that the army return to Troy for the night.

XVIII 311* of the Trojans, who follow Hektor into the fatal battle {61|62}

XX 198* of the person who understands something only after it is done. In this case, the “thing that is done” is the death of the person who is being addressed.

XX 200 of those who are frightened by words (nēputios)

XX 211 of words as a form of battle instead of deeds (nēputios)

XX 244 of those who stand talking when there is a battle to be fought (nēputios)

XX 264* of Achilles, who does not recognize the strength of the gifts of the gods. Achilles is not in immediate danger of death here, but he has already made the choice that will lead to his death, and not even the gifts of the gods can protect him.

XX 296* of Aeneas, who trusts in Apollo’s words and would have died had not Poseidon stepped in to save him

XX 411* of Polydoros, Priam’s youngest son, who enters battle despite his father’s wishes and is killed

XX 431 of those who are frightened by words (nēputios)

XXI 99* of Lykaon, who does not realize that Achilles will not save him a second time

XXI 410 of Ares, who does not realize that Athene is stronger than he (nēputios)

XXI 441 of Apollo, who does not remember when he and Poseidon were servants in Troy (nēputios)

XXI 474 of Apollo, who will not fight with Poseidon (nēputios)

XXI 585* of Achilles, who thinks he can sack Troy

XXII 333* of Hektor, who thought he could kill Patroklos with impunity

XXII 445 of Andromache, who does not know that Hektor is dead {62|63}

i 8* of Odysseus’ men, who ate the cattle of the Sun and perished by their own folly

iii 146* of Agamemnon, who thought that he could placate Athene with hecatombs and secure a happy homecoming

iv 31 of Menelaos’s steward who hesitates to admit the guests who are at the door. Menelaos rebukes him and reminds him that they themselves had been dependent for their lives on hospitality.

iv 371 of Menelaos, who could not find a way to leave the island on which he and his men were marooned

ix 44* of Odysseus’s men, who would not leave the island of Kikones after their initial victory. They were forced to engage in another battle in which many of them perished.

ix 273 of Odysseus, who expected guest-friendship from the Kyklopes (Polyphemos says this) not knowing that they do not reverence the gods.

ix 419* Polyphemos hopes that Odysseus will be nēpios, but Odysseus makes a plan to free himself and his men.

ix 442 of Polyphemos, who did not understand that Odysseus and his men were under the sheep

xiii 237 Athene says that Odysseus is nēpios not to know that he is in Ithaca

xxi 85 Antinoos accuses the swineherd and cowherd of being nēpios because they are weeping for the absent Odysseus.

xxii 32* of the suitors, who did not know that they were about to die

xxii 370* of the suitors, who ate Odysseus’s possessions and did not honor him

xxiv 469* of Eupheithes, who leads the Ithacans against Odysseus and does not know that he is about to die {63|64}

Of the 46 citations in this list, eight are occurrences of the word nēputios. This word is obviously a derivative of nēpios and is closely allied to it in meaning, hence its inclusion in the list. It has, however, a specialized context of its own, discussed below. But, leaving out occurrences of nēputios, of 38 times that an adult is called nēpios in the Iliad or Odyssey, 27 times (nearly 72 percent) that person is about to die. Where the person called nēpios is not about to die, there are nearly always other forms of social disconnection. A few examples will suffice here.

Menelaos had not offered sacrifices to the gods when he left Troy. Consequently, they cause him to land on an island off Egypt and then they withhold the winds he needs to sail away. He says that he and his men would have perished there had he not been given help and advice by a sea nymph and her father Proteus. When the nymph approaches Menelaos, she addresses him thus:

νήπιος εἰς, ὦ ξεῖνε, λίην τόσον ἠδέ χαλίφρων,
ἦε ἑκών μεθιεῖς καὶ τέρπεαι ἄλγεα πάσχων;
ὡς δὴ δήθ᾽ ἐνὶ νήσῳ ἐρύκεαι οὐδέ τι τέκμωρ
εὑρέμεναι δύνασαι, μινύθει δέ τοι ἦτορ ἑταίρων.

Are you nēpios then, O stranger, and flimsy-minded,
or are you willingly giving up, and enjoying your hardships?
See, you are held so long on the island, and can find no way
out of it, while the heart in your companions diminishes.

iv 371–374

Proteus, a typically ēpios figure (see Chapter Two), and thus a connector, is here the agent of Menelaos’s reconnection with the rest of humanity. Menelaos without his aid is nēpios, socially disconnected because he is mentally deficient—if the nymph’s words can be believed. If a hero’s nostos (“return”) equals “a return to life,” then a delay of his nostos means that, in some sense, he is not among the living. Thus this disconnection, too, is a form of death. [1]

The word nēpios occurs several times during Odysseus’s recitation of the Kyklops episode. Odysseus is in the land of the Kykopes because he is seeking guest-friendship—obviously a form of connection among men. The Kyklopes, however, do not have social {64|65} institutions (ix 275–277). They live apart from other men and apart from each other. Odysseus has had some initial troubles returning to Ithake, but his real problems begin when he incurs the wrath of Poseidon by blinding his son Polyphemos. This episode is, then, a turning point. The contest between Odysseus and Polyphemos is a struggle over who will turn out to be nēpios. Polyphemos twice expresses the opinion or hope that Odysseus is nēpios:

νήπιός εἰς, ὦ ξεῖν᾽, ἢ τηλόθεν εἰλήλουθας,
ὅς με θεοὺς κέλεαι ἢ δειδίμεν ἢ ἀλέασθαι.

Stranger, you are nēpios, or come from far off,
when you tell me to avoid the wrath of the gods or fear them.

ix 273–274

οὕτω γάρ πού μ᾽ ἤλπετ᾽ ἐνὶ φρεσὶ νήπιον εἶναι.
αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ βούλευον, ὅπως ὄχ᾽ ἄριστα γένοιτο

for thus he hoped in his heart that I would be nēpios,
but I was planning so that things would come out for the best.

ix 419–420

But Odysseus prevails and it is Polyphemos who, in the end, is nēpios:

… τὸ δὲ νήπιος οὐκ ἐνόησεν,
ὥς οἱ ὑπ᾽ εἰροπόκων ὀΐων στέρνοισι δέδεντο.

… but nēpios, he did not notice how
my men were fastened under the breasts of his fleecy sheep.

ix 442–443

Although the word nēpios seems here to refer to a mental deficiency, Polyphemos is also, by nature, socially disconnected, and his encounter with Odysseus—an aborted guest-friendship—simply confirms him in that role.

Achilles’s separation from his fellows is stated at the beginning (I 1) in terms of wrath, His initial quarrel is with Agamemnon, and although Agamemnon is not called nēpios in the course of that quarrel, he is elsewhere (II 37–38, iii 146). Furthermore, Achilles’s speech to him (I 225–244) after Athene has told him not to try to kill Agamemnon is of a specific type that usually ends with the phrase:

… ῥεχθὲν δέ τε νήπιος ἔγνω.

Only after a thing has been done, does the nēpios person see it.

XVII 32, XX 198

This type of speech is discussed below. Briefly, its elements are: insults, threats, an example from the past, and a prediction for the future that takes the form of a warning. There is no real example from the past in Achilles’s speech, but there is a token, an example from another sphere: the sceptre, which will never again bear leaves. All the other elements, except the concluding phrase, are clearly there. Perhaps the reason the proverbial phrase does not appear here is that Achilles spells out exactly, and with reference to Agamemnon specifically, what its import is:

… τότε δ᾽ οὔ τι δυνήσεαι ἀνχύνεμός περ
χραισμεῖν, εὖτ᾽ ἂν πολλοὶ ὑφ᾽ Ἕκτορος ἀνδροφόνοιο
θνῄσκοντες πίπτωσι· σὺ δ᾽ ἔνδοθι θυμὸν ἀμύξεις
χωόμενος ὅ τ᾽ ἄριστον Ἀχαιῶν οὐδὲν ἔτεισας.

… Then stricken at heart though you be, you will be able
to do nothing, when in their numbers before man-slaughtering Hektor
they drop and die. And then you will eat out the heart within you
in sorrow, that you did no honor to the best of the Achaians.

I 241–244

The Achaian army as a whole is also characteristically nēpios. After Agamemnon’s dream, the import of which he, nēpios, did not understand (II 35–38) and his subsequent deceiving of the army, Nestor accuses the Achaians of taking counsel like paisin nēpiachois (“nēpios children,” II 337–338). When Priam has suggested that the armies stop fighting and that Paris will give back the plundered possessions of Menelaos but not Helen, none of the Greeks knows what to say:

ὣς ἔφαθ᾽, οἱ δ᾽ ἄρα πάντες ἀκὴν ἐγένοντο σιωπῇ

So he spoke and all of them stayed quiet in silence.

VII 398 {66|67}

But finally Diomedes, who is the usual person to speak after long silences (cf. IX 30 ff., IX 695 ff., X 218 ff.), says:

… γνωτὸν δὲ καὶ ὃς μάλα νήπιός ἐστιν,
ὡς ἤδη Τρώεσσιν ὀλέθρου πείρατ᾽ ἐφῆπται.

… even one who is nēpios can see it,
that by this time the terms of death hang over the Trojans.

VII 401–402

That is to say: all the Achaians are acting in a nēpios fashion.

Hektor says of the Achaians that their walls will not protect them:

νήπιοι, οἳ ἄρα δὴ τάδε τείχεα μηχανόωντο
ἀβλήχρ᾽ οὐδενόσωρα …

nēpioi, they designed with care these fortifications,
flimsy things, not worth a thought …

VIII 177–178

During the final rout of the Achaians before Achilles joins the battle, Ajax remarks:

… ἤδη μέν κε καὶ ὃς μάλα νήπιός ἐστι
γνοίη ὅτι Τρώεσσι πατὴρ Ζεὺς αὐτὸς ἀρήγει.

… by now even one who is nēpios
could see how father Zeus himself is helping the Trojans.

XVII 629–630

Achilles has disconnected himself from the Achaian army because of his wrath, but the plan of Zeus provides that the army will be gradually disconnected from him through its own destruction. Still the isolation of Achilles is not complete; he has his companion and friend Patroklos. Then Patroklos, in the course of one disastrous book, is called nēpios four times:

τίπτε δεδάκρυσαι, Πατρόκλεες, ἠΰτε κούρη
νηπίη …

Why are you weeping, Patroklos, like some little
nēpios girl …?

XVI 7–8

ὣς φάτο λισσόμενος μέγα νήπιος· ἦ γὰρ ἔμελλεν
οἷ αὐτῷ θάνατόν τε κακὸν καὶ κῆρα λιτέσθαι. {67|68}

So he spoke supplicating, greatly nēpios, this was his
own death and evil destruction he was entreating.

XVI 46–47

Πάτροκλος δ᾽ ἵπποισι καὶ Αὐτομέδοντι κελεύσας
Τρῶας καὶ Λυκίους μετεκίαθε, καὶ μέγ᾽ ἀάσθη
νήπιος· εἰ δὲ ἔπος Πηληϊάδαο φύλαξεν

But Patroklos, with a shout to Automedon and his horses,
went after the Trojans and the Lykians in a huge blind fury.
Nēpios: had he only kept the command of Peleiades …

XVI 684–686

Πάτροκλ᾽, ἦ που ἔφησθα πόλιν κεραϊξέμεν ἁμήν,
Τρωϊάδας δὲ γυναῖκας ἐλεύθερον ἦμαρ ἀπούρας
ἄξειν ἐν νήεσσι φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν,

Patroklos, you thought perhaps of devastating our city,
of stripping from the Trojan women the day of their liberty
and dragging them off in ships to the beloved land of your fathers,

XVI 830–833

Because Patroklos is nēpios and consequently dies, Achilles’s isolation becomes complete, and it is at this moment that he begins to function as a warrior-hero. He remains isolated during his aristeia, he does not eat with the Achaians (XIX 209–210) or take part in the games (XXIII 279) or even bathe (XXIII 44). His re-integration with humanity if such it may be called—takes place when Priam visits him and he is persuaded to return Hektor’s body. Priam appeals to him in the name of his father, and Priam himself, as I have said before, is nothing if not a father-figure. It seems particularly appropriate, in view of the strong contextual associations between the word ēpios and fathers, that a father, who reminds Achilles of his own father, should be the agent of his reconnection. [

The theme of the Odyssey, as is clear in the beginning of the first book, has to do with the separation of the hero from his companions, and his eventual reintegration into society. In fact, the story of Odysseus’s wanderings is doubly framed by the word nēpios. The first incident in the tale which Odysseus tells the Phaiakians is the sack of the city of the Kikones. Odysseys says: {68|69}

ἔνθ᾽ ἦ τοι μὲν ἐγὼ διερῷ ποδὶ φευγέμεν ἡμέας
ἠνώγεα, τοὶ δέ—μέγα νήπιοι—οὐκ ἐπίθοντο.

There I was for the light foot and escaping,
and urged it, but they were greatly nēpios and would not listen.

ix 43–44

This is where Odysseus begins to lose his companions. The loss is complete after they eat the cattle of the Sun:

αὐτῶν γὰρ σφετέρῃσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὄλοντο,
νήπιοι, οἳ κατὰ βοῦς Ὑπερίονος Ἠελίοιο …

they were destroyed by their own wild recklessness,
nēpioi, who devoured the oxen of Helios, the Sun God …

i 7–8

Thus Odysseus’s companions are nēpios beginning and end, and they disconnect themselves from him. But Odysseus’s social disconnection is double; he is disconnected not only from his companions but also from his homeland and family. Here again the word nēpios frames the beginning and end of his isolation. The blinding of Polyphemos (who hopes or assumes that Odysseus is nēpios) brings down the wrath of Poseidon, which prevents Odysseus from returning home. When he does finally land on Ithake, he does not know where he is. Athene addresses him with precisely those words that the Kyklops used:

Such a stranger is either disconnected from the place he is in because he has always been spatially disconnected from it—that is, far away— or he is fundamentally disconnected, nēpios. Odysseus, in fact, is in {69|70} the process of becoming reconnected, but just as he is very guarded in revealing himself to Penelope, so he is very guarded in allowing his homeland to reveal itself to him.

Odysseus’s companions are gradually eliminated and he arrives home alone; the cycle is, in a sense, complete, but the story is not. The cycle must be repeated and Odysseus must again eliminate those around him—this time, the suitors. The suitors, too, are nēpios:

ἴσκεν ἕκαστος ἀνήρ, ἐπεὶ ἦ φάσαν οὐκ ἐθέλοντα
ἄνδρα κατακτεῖναι· τὸ δὲ νήπιοι οὐκ ἐνόησαν,
ὡς δή σφιν καὶ πᾶσιν ὀλέθρου πείρατ᾽ ἐφῆπτο.

Each spoke at random, for they thought he had not intended
to kill the man, nēpioi, and they had not yet realized
how over all of them the terms of death were now hanging.

xxii 31–33

… οἵ οἱ ἔκειρον
κτήματ᾽ ἐνὶ μεγάρῳ, σὲ δὲ νήπιοι οὐδὲν ἔτιον.

… who kept ruining
his goods in his palace and, nēpioi, paid you no honor.

xxii 369–370

Like Odysseus’s men, the suitors are nēpios and thus perish because they eat the wrong thing. After the slaughter of the suitors, there is only one group that Odysseus must eliminate in order to be completely connected to his home: the angry relatives of the slain men. When they set out against Odysseus, they are led by Eupeithes:

τοῖσιν δ᾽ Εὐπείθης ἡγήσατο νηπιέῃσι

Eupeithes led them in their nēpios ways.

xxiv 469

it may be objected that Odysseus is never really isolated; where he appears as a warrior-hero, in the slaughter scene, he is accompanied by his son Telemachos. This objection can only be answered by the view outlined above, that a hero’s son—and he usually has but one [
5] — is himself recreated. The huies Achaioi (“sons of the Achaians”) are identical with the Achaioi (“Achaians”).

The most memorable reconnection in the Odyssey is probably Odysseus’s reunion with Penelope. It is noteworthy, however, that {70|71} the reconnection of the final scene of the Odyssey is that of Odysseus with his father. Thus the Iliad and the Odyssey are alike in this also: that their resolution involves a typically ēpios figure, an archetypal connector.

This is not the only passage in which the word nēpios is associated with guest-friendship and questions of what we would call courtesy or propriety. At one point the suitor Antinoos invites Telemachos to lay aside his anger and eat with the rest of them hōs to paros per (“as formerly”). Telemachos answers:

Ἀντίνο᾽, οὔ πως ἔστιν ὑπερφιάλοισι μεθ᾽ ὑμῖν
δαίνυσθαί τ᾽ ἀκέοντα καὶ εὐφραίνεσθαι ἕκηλον.
ἢ οὐχ ἅλις ὡς τὸ πάροιθεν ἐκείρετε πολλὰ καὶ ἐσθλὰ {71|72}
κτήματ᾽ ἐμά, μνηστῆρες, ἐγὼ δ᾽ ἔτι νήπιος ἦα;
νῦν δ᾽ ὅτε δὴ μέγας εἰμὶ καὶ ἄλλων μῦθον ἀκούων
πυνθάνομαι, καὶ δή μοι ἀέξεται ἔνδοθι θυμός,
πειρήσω ὥς κ᾽ ὕμμι κακὰς ἐπὶ κῆρας ἰήλω

Antinoös, there is no way for me to dine with you
against my will, and take my ease, when you are so insolent.
Is it not enough, you suitors, that in time past you ruined
my great and good possessions, when I was still nēpios?
But now, when I am grown big, and by listening to others
can learn the truth, and anger rises within me,
I will endeavor to visit evil destructions upon you …

ii 310–316

When Telemachos was still nēpios, he took part in the improper feasts of the suitors. But now that he is no longer nēpios, he is committed to stopping them and restoring proper order.

Nestor recounts the return of the Achaians from Troy. The Atreidae, he says, called a council, which he describes in the following way:

μάψ᾽, ἀτὰρ οὐ κατὰ κόσμον, ἐς ἠέλιον καταδύντα—
οἱ δ᾽ ἦλθον οἴνῳ βεβαρηότες υἷες Ἀχαιῶν—

reckless, out of order, as the sun was setting,
and the sons of the Achaians came in, heavy with drinking wine.

iii 138–139

At this council Agamemnon declares that the army should stay together and offer sacrifice to Athene. Nestor says of Agamemnon:

νήπιος, οὐδὲ τὸ ᾔδη, ὃ οὐ πείσεσθαι ἔμελλεν,
οὐ γάρ τ᾽ αἶψα θεῶν τρέπεται νόος αἰὲν ἐόντων

Nēpios, he did not know that he was not about to persuade her.
The will of the everlasting gods is not turned suddenly.

iii 146–147

Agamemnon is nēpios in the context of a council improperly called. Athene, is her wrath (iii 135), does not simply destroy the Achaians; she first causes them to act improperly (iii 136). Once they have violated the established order, they are nēpios, disconnected, and thus—in a way—defenseless. That their disconnection makes possible their downfall is evident in Telemachos’s question:

πῶς ἔθαν᾽ Ἀτρεΐδης εὐρυκρείων Ἀγαμέμνων;
ποῦ Μενέλαος ἔην; τίνα δ᾽ αὐτῷ μήσατ᾽ ὄλεθρον {72|73}
Αἴγισθος δολόμητις, ἐπεὶ κτάνε πολλὸν ἀρείω;
ἦ οὐκ Ἄργεος ἦεν Ἀχαϊκοῦ, ἀλλά πῃ ἄλλῃ
πλάζετ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ἀνθρώπους, ὁ δὲ θαρσήσας κατέπεφνε;

How did Atreus’s son, widely ruling Agamemnon
die? And where was Menelaos? What scheme of death
did treacherous Aigisthos have, to kill one far better than he was?
Was Menelaos out of Achaia and Argos, wandering
elsewhere among men, that Aigisthos had courage to do it?

iii 248–252

After Odysseus had sacked the city of the Kikones (ix 39 ff.), he bid his men flee quickly. His narration continues:

… τοὶ δέ—μέγα νήπιοι!—οὐκ ἐπίθοντο.
ἔνθα δὲ πολλὸν μὲν μέθυ πίνετο, πολλὰ δὲ μῆλα
ἔσφαζον παρὰ θῖνα καὶ εἰλίποδας ἕλικας βοῦς

… but they—greatly nēpios —were not persuaded.
But then and there much wine was being drunk, and they slaughtered
many sheep on the beach, and lumbering horn-curved cattle.

ix 44–46

It was an improper feast, and its consequences, like the consequences of that other improper feast on the cattle of the Sun god, were disastrous. For both Agamemnon and Odysseus’s men, their mental disconnection causes, or at least occurs in the same context with, their social disconnection. The word nēpios expresses both. The context of improper feasts or, more generally, violations of the social order, which is apparent in the three examples given above, is expanded and made into a whole episode in the story of Odysseus’s encounter with the Kyklops. Not only does Polyphemos not provide proper hospitality for Odysseus, but Odysseus’s men become an improper feast for Polyphemos. The three occurrences of the word nēpios in this episode are discussed above. I can now add that the whole issue of who will turn out to be really nēpios, the radically disconnected Polyphemos or the temporarily disconnected Odysseus, is expressed in terms of the social institutions that serve to connect men, namely hospitality and feasting.

Penelope rebukes Telemachos for allowing the beggar, Odysseus in disguise, to be mistreated:

Τηλέμαχ᾽ οὐκέτι τοι φρένες ἔμπεδοι οὐδὲ νόημα·
παῖς ἔτ᾽ ἐὼν καὶ μᾶλλον ἐνὶ φρεσὶ κέρδε᾽ ἐνώμας·
νῦν δ᾽ ὅτε δὴ μέγας ἐσσὶ καὶ ἥβης μέτρον ἱκάνεις,
καὶ κέν τις φαίη γόνον ἔμμεναι ὀλβίου ἀνδρός. {73|74}
ἐς μέγεθος καὶ κάλλος ὁρώμενος, ἀλλότριος φώς.
οὐκέτι τοι φρένες εἰσὶν ἐναίσιμοι οὐδὲ νόημα,
οἷον δὴ τόδε ἔργον ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν ἐτύχθη,
ὃς τὸν ξεῖνον ἔασας ἀεικισθήμεναι οὕτως.
πῶς νῦν, εἴ τι ξεῖνος ἐν ἡμετέροισι δόμοισιν
ἥμενος ὧδε πάθοι ῥυστακτύος ἐξ ἀλεγεινῆς;
σοί κ᾽ αἶσχος λώβη τε μετ᾽ ἀνθρώποισι πέλοιτο.

Telemachos, your mind and thoughts are no longer steadfast.
When you were a child still, you had better thoughts in mind. Now
when you are big, and come to the measure of maturity, and one
who saw you, some outsider, viewing your size and beauty,
would say that you were the son born of a prosperous man;
your thoughts are no longer righteous, nor your perception;
such a thing has been done now, here in our palace, and you
permitted our stranger guest to be so outrageously handled.
How must it be now, if the stranger who sits in our household
is to be made to suffer so from bitter brutality?
That must be your outrage and shame as people see it.

xviii 215–225

She does not use the word nēpios, but compare the following similar passages:

… ἐγὼ δ᾽ ἔτι νήπιος ἦα;
νῦν δ᾽ ὅτε δὴ μέγας εἰμὶ …

… I was still nēpios.
But now when I am big …

ii 313–314

παῖς δ᾽ ἐμὸς ἧος ἔην ἔτι νήπιος …

νῦν δ᾽ ὅτε δὴ μέγας ἐστὶ καὶ ἥβης μέτρον ἱκάνει

My son, while he was still nēpios

now when he is big, and come to the measure of maturity …

xix 530, 532

Penelope is saying to Telemachos (xviii 215–225) “if you are not nēpios why do you allow the stranger to be mistreated?” Or, more simply, “It is nēpios to mistreat strangers.” And, indeed, Telemachos answers her with these words:

μῆτηρ ἐμή, τὸ μὲν οὔ σε νεμεσσῶμαι κεχολῶσθαι·
αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ θυμῷ νοέω καὶ οἶδα ἕκαστα,
ἐσθλά τε καὶ τὰ χέρεια· πάρος δ᾽ ἔτι νήπιος ἦα.

My mother, I cannot complain of your anger, I myself {74|75}
notice all these things in my heart and know of them, better
and worse alike, but before now I was still nēpios.

xviii 227–229

Feasting is one form of social connection among men, talking is another. Just as improper feasting provides one specialized context for the word nēpios, improper talking provides the context for its derivative nēputios. While some contexts of nēputios might be read as evidence that talking in general is inferior to action and thus it is nēputios to be talking when one could be fighting, I shall try to show that talking “like a nēputios” is a particular kind of talking.

The following passages seem simply to contrast talking to fighting:

ἀλλ᾽ ἄγε, μηκέτι ταῦτα λεγώμεθα νηπύτιοι ὣς
ἑσταότες, μή πού τις ὑπεφιάλως νεμεσήσῃ·

But come, let us not any longer talk of these things like nēputioi,
standing here, lest some man arrogantly scold us.

XIII 292–293

… οὐ γάρ φημ᾽ ἐπέεσσί γε νηπυτίοισιν
ὧδε διακρινθέντε μάχης ἒξ ἀπονέεσθαι.

… for I think that not only with nēputios words having thus
engaged, will we return again out of battle.

XX 211–212

We might find some support for the notion that deeds are superior to words in the fact that both Hektor (XIII 726–728) and Achilles (XVIII 105–106) are said to be better at fighting than at counsel. An even better example is Agamemnon’s taunt to Diomedes:

τοῖος ἔην Τυδεὺς Αἰτώλιος· ἀλλὰ τὸν υἱὸν
γείνατο εἷο χέρεια μάχῃ, ἀγορῇ δέ τ᾽ ἀμείνω.

This was Tydeus, the Aitolian; yet he was father
to a son worse than himself at fighting, better in conclave.

IV 399–400

But skill at speaking was one of the characteristic virtues of a warrior, or, we might say, of an adult man. For example, Penelope says that Telemachos is:

νήπιος, οὔτε πόνων εὖ εἰδὼς οὔτ᾽ ἀγοράων.

nēpios, knowing nothing of war or council. {75|76}
iv 818

In contrast, Nestor praises Diomedes:

Τυδείδη, πέρι μὲν πολέμῳ ἔνι καρτερός ἐσσι,
καὶ βουλῇ μετὰ πάντας ὁμήλικας ἔπλευ ἄριστος.

Son of Tydeus, beyond others you are strong in battle,
and in counsel also are noblest among all men of your own age.

IX 53–54

A warrior, then, was expected to be distinguished in the council chamber as well as in battles. Furthermore, form should not be distinguished from content; that is, we cannot say that a warrior ought to be good at making plans, but ought not to give too much thought to eloquence. I need cite only one pair of examples:

τῶ οὐκ ἄν με γένος γε κακὸν καὶ ἀνάλκιδα φάντες
μῦθον ἀτιμήσαιτε πεφασμένον, ὅν κ᾽ ἐῢ εἴπω.
δεῦτ᾽ ἴομεν πόλεμόνδε καὶ οὐτάμενοί περ ἀνάγκῃ.

Therefore you could not, saying that I was base and unwarlike
by birth, dishonor any word that I speak, if I speak well.
Let us go back to the fighting wounded as we are. We have to.

XIV 126–128

τοῖσι δ᾽ ἔπειτ᾽ ἀγόρευε Θόας, Ἀνδραίμονος υἱός,
Αἰτωλῶν ὄχ᾽ ἄριστος, ἐπιστάμενος μὲν ἄκοντι,
ἐσθλὸς δ᾽ ἐν σταδίῃ· ἀγορῇ δέ ἑ παῦροι Ἀχαιῶν
νίκων, ὁππότε κοῦροι ἐρίσσειαν περὶ μύθων.

Now Thoas spoke forth among them, the son of Andraimon,
far the best of the Aitolians, one skilled in the spear’s throw
and brave in close fight. In assembly few of the Achaians
when the young men contended in debate could outdo him.

XV 281–284

In these two passages, the same word (muthos) is used to refer to speech. In the first passage, it is clearly the content of the speech that is at issue. In the second passage (which Chantraine glosses “rivaliser d’ éloquence” [
7] ), it is the form of the speech. We cannot conclude, then, that those who talk are “like nēputioi.” Rather that talking “like nēputioi” is a certain kind of talking.

In order to discover what kind of talking is talking “like nēputioi,” it is necessary to examine the contexts of the word {76|77} nēputios. This word appears only in a certain definable situation: a warrior is trying to get the advantage over his adversary by means of boasts or insults or threats. [8] The psychological effect of this technique is obvious. The warrior’s self-confidence is undermined and he becomes an easier prey. But a larger issue is involved. There are (at least) two forms of mortality:physical death and loss of kleos (“glory”). Achilles is faced with a conscious choice between these two:

μήτηρ γάρ τέ μέ φησι θεὰ Θέτις ἀργυρόπεζα
διχθαδίας κῆρας φερέμεν θανάτοιο τέλοσδε.
εἰ μέν κ᾽ αὖθι μένων Τρώων πόλιν ἀμφιμάχωμαι,
ὤλετο μέν μοι νόστος, ἀτὰρ κλέος ἄφθιτον ἔσται·
εἰ δέ κεν οἴκαδ᾽ ἵκωμι φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν,
ὤλετό μοι κλέος ἐσθλόν, ἐπὶ δηρὸν δέ μοι αἰὼν
ἔσσεται, οὐδέ κέ μ᾽ ὦκα τέλος θανάτοιο κιχείη.

For my mother Thetis the goddess of the silver feet tells me
I carry two sorts of destiny toward the day of my death. Either
if I stay here and fight beside the city of the Trojans,
my return home is gone, but my kleos shall be everlasting;
but if I return home to the beloved land of my fathers,
the excellence of my kleos is gone, but there will be a long life
left for me, and my end in death will not come to me quickly.

IX 410–416

In the contexts of the word nēputios, a warrior is either trying to deprive his adversary of his kleos, or he fears that he may lose his own kleos. [

The central passage for the understanding of the word nēputios is XX 178–258. Achilles speaks first to Aeneas (XX 178–198). This speech itself is of a definable type—the advice speech, discussed below. In this type of speech, the adversary is insulted, told he cannot possibly win the fight, and advised to retreat. Aeneas answers Achilles in this way:

Πηλεΐδη, μὴ δὴ ἐπέεσσί με νηπύτιον ὣς
ἔλπεο δειδίξεσθαι, ἐπεὶ σάφα οἶδα καὶ αὐτὸς
ἠμέν κερτομίας ἠδ᾽ αἴσυλα μυθήσασθαι.

Son of Peleus, never hope by words to frighten me
as if I were nēputios. I myself understand well enough
how to speak in vituperation and how to make insults. {77|78}

XX 200–202

In the long speech that follows, the dramatic illusion is strained; an actor in the drama displays a consciousness of himself as a subject of poetry. Aeneas does not address himself to the content of Achilles’s speech, but to its form. He says, in effect, “I recognize that you have used a certain type of speech common in battle scenes,” and he proceeds to reflect upon the relationship of warriors and poetry.

The speech is really two speeches, the second an expanded version of the first. The first speech (200–212) begins with Aeneas’s remark that he cannot be overcome with words “like a nēputios,” for he understands the technique Achilles has just used. He then offers what is, while not an invocation to the Muses, still a tribute to the power of poetry:

ἴδμεν δ᾽ ἀλλήλων γενεήν, ἴδμεν δὲ τοκῆας, {78|79}
πρόκλυτ᾽ ἀκούοντες ἔπεα θνητῶν ἀνθρώπων·
ὄψει δ᾽ οὔτ᾽ ἄρ πω σὺ ἐμοὺς ἴδες οὔτ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἐγὼ σούς.

You and I know each other’s birth, we both know our parents
since we have heard the lines of their fame from mortal men; only
I have never with my eyes seen your parents, nor have you seen mine.

XX 203–205

He gives two lines each to both sets of parents, and concludes with a reminder of the business at hand:

τῶν δὴ νῦν ἕτεροί γε φίλον παῖδα κλαύσονται
σήμερον …

one group or the other (of these parents) will have a dear son to
mourn for this day …

XX 210–211

He ends as he began: the battle will not be decided epeessi . . . nēputiosin (“by nēputios words”). And, having gone back to the beginning, he starts all over again, with a tribute to the power of poetry:

εἰ δ᾽ ἐθέλεις καὶ ταῦτα δαήμεναι, ὄφρ᾽ ἐὺ εἰδῇς
ἡμετέρην γενεήν, πολλοὶ δέ μιν ἄνδρες ἴσασι.

if you wish to learn all this and be certain
of my genealogy: there are plenty of men who know it.

XX 213–214

He gives an artful sketch of his ancestry starting from Zeus. It contains a tiny epyllion in the story of the horses of Erichthonios. He includes a tribute to the power of Zeus and again remarks that they ought not to stand talking “like nēputioi” when there is fighting to be done. He has gone back to the beginning once again. The remaining 13 lines contain more reflections on the technique Achilles has used: insulting his enemy before fighting. These lines, if anything, seem to be a description of talking “like a nēputios.” The characteristics of this kind of speech, as described here, are as follows:

—It is abusive.

ἔστι γὰρ ἀμφοτέροισιν ὀνείδεα μυθήσασθαι
πολλὰ μάλ᾽

for there are harsh things enough that could be spoken against us

XX 246 {79|80}

—The character of insult makes it infinite.

… οὐδ᾽ ἂν νηῦς ἑκατόζυγος ἄχθος ἄροιτο.

A ship of a hundred locks could not carry the burden.

XX 247

—It is like what women do.

… ὥς τε γυναῖκας#

… as if we were women

XX 252

—It is the result of anger.

… χόλος δέ τε καὶ τὰ κελεύει.

Anger makes them do this.

XX 255

Another passage in the Iliad in which women’s quarrels are mentioned is Helen’s lament for Hektor (XXIV 761–775, discussed above in Chapter Two). Helen says that the other women of Troy would insult her:

ἀλλ᾽ εἴ τίς με καὶ ἄλλος ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν ἐνίπτοι
δαέρων ἢ γαλόων ἢ εἰνατέρων εὐπέπλων,
ἢ ἑκυρή—ἑκυρὸς δὲ πατὴρ ὣς ἤπιος αἰεί—

But when another, one of my lord’s brothers or sisters, a fair-robed
wife of some brother, would say a harsh word to me in the palace,
or my lord’s mother—but my father-in-law was always ēpios like a father …

XXIV 768–770

Hektor, whom she also calls ēpios, would make them cease insulting her. That is, on the one hand are those who insult (the nēputioi), and on the other hand are those who resolve quarrels (the ēpioi).

Obviously, quarreling and insulting are a form of disconnection within societies, but how is it disconnecting for a warrior to insult another warrior? The answer lies in the last lines of Aeneas’s speech. He says:

ἀλκῆς δ᾽ οὔ μ᾽ ἐπέεσσιν ἀποτρέψεις μεμαῶτα
πρὶν χαλκῷ μαχέσασθαι ἐναντίον· ἀλλ᾽ ἄγε θᾶσσον
γευσόμεθ᾽ ἀλλήλων χαλκήρεσιν ἐγχείῃσιν.

You will not by talking turn me back from the strain of my warcraft,
not till you have fought to my face with the bronze. Come on then
and let us try each other’s strength with the bronze of our spearheads.

XX 256–258 {80|81}

Talking is inconclusive. [
11] For example, the central element of the Iliad is the anger of Achilles. This anger could have been resolved in the first book had Athene not advised him to put away his sword and “insult [Agamemnon] with words” (I 211). Since words are inconclusive, the rest of the Iliad is needed to complete the story. On the other hand, when Thersites attacks Agamemnon with insults (II 211 ff.), that scene is not prolonged and has no further repercussions because Odysseus resolves the matter with a deed: he beats Thersites. If warriors stand insulting each other, they do not engage, come together, join battle. They perform no deeds and win no kleos. Aeneas’s speech makes a distinction between two forms of speech: epic poetry and insult. Warriors are the subject of the first kind of speech, but by indulging in the second kind they disconnect themselves from the first. Quarreling is an inappropriate use of speech.

The meeting between Achilles and Hektor (XX 421 ff.) is a much briefer version of the exchange between Achilles and Aeneas. Achilles threatens Hektor and, by implying that the result of the battle between them is certain, insults him:

ἆσσον ἴθ᾽, ὥς κεν θᾶσσον ὀλέθρου πείραθ᾽ ἴκηαι.

Come nearer so that sooner you may reach your appointed destruction.

XX 429

Hektor answers with the bare elements of Aeneas’s speech: “do not try to frighten me with words like a nēputios; I too understand the use of insult; I know your story and mine; let us fight” (XX 431–437).

The Trojan Agenor, during the retreat of the Trojans, stops to fight Achilles. He speaks to him in this way:

ἦ δή που μάλ᾽ ἔολπας ἐνὶ φρεσί, φαίδιμ᾽ Ἀχιλλεῦ, {81|82}
ἤματι τῷδε πόλιν πέρσειν Τρώων ἀγερώχων,
νηπύτι᾽‧ ἦ τ᾽ ἔτι πολλὰ τετεύξεται ἄλγε᾽ ἐπ’ αὐτῇ.

You must have hoped within your heart, o shining Achilles,
on this day to storm the city of the proud Trojans.
Νēputios, there is much hard suffering to be done for its winning.

XXI 583–585

He is responding to Achilles’s unspoken boast and threat, which he correctly foresees is empty. None of these exchanges that begin with an insult and contain the word nēputios ever ends with the death of one of the contenders. Poseidon puts a mist in the eyes of Achilles and snatches Aeneas away. Both Hektor and Agenor are wrapped in mists by Apollo.

Of the two forms of mortality, one is not available to the gods. Since they cannot inflict death upon one another, they are forced to attack each other’s reputation. The word nēputios is especially frequent in these exchanges. Ares begins the battle. He approaches Athene:

… ὀνείδειον φάτο μῦθον·#

… he spoke a wrangling speech.

XXI 393

Athene knocks Ares down with a rock, having avoided a thrust of his spear. She calls him nēputios (XXI 410) and adds her own boast and threat.

When Poseidon has been persuaded by Hera that he ought to fight Apollo, he tries to rouse him by saying that it would be aischion (“shameful”) if they were to go back to Olympos without having fought. He himself, he says, since he is older, ought not cast the first blow, so in order to get Apollo to do it, he insults him:

νηπύτι᾽, ὡς ἄνοον κραδίην ἔχες …

Nēputios, what a mindless heart you have …

XXI 441

Apollo is too high-minded to fight, but again, his answer is based on the power of reputation:

ἐννοσίγαι᾽, οὐκ ἄν με σαόφρονα μυθήσαιο
ἔμμεναι, εἰ δὴ σοί γε βροτῶν ἕνεκα πτολεμίξω {82|83}
δειλῶν …

Earthshaker, you would say I was not of sound mind
were I to fight with you for the sake of mortals
who are insignificant,

XXI 462–464

Artemis is annoyed that he refuses to fight. She calls him nēputios (XXI 474) and hopes never to hear him boast among the gods that he has fought with Poseidon.

The final context of nēputios is a discussion between friends, but again reputation or kleos is the issue. Idomeneus and his friend Meriones have left the battle to get a fresh supply of spears (XIII 249–294). Idomeneus implies that Meriones might be shirking and Meriones replies, stoutly defending his valour and martial skill:

οὐδὲ γὰρ οὐδ᾽ ἐμέ φημι λελασμένον ἔμμεναι ἀλκῆς,
ἀλλὰ μετὰ πρώτοισι μάχην ἀνὰ κυδιάνειραν
ἵσταμαι, ὁππότε νεῖκος ὀρώρηται πολέμοιο.
ἄλλον πού τινα μᾶλλον Ἀχαιῶν χαλκοχιτώνων
λήθω μαρνάμενος, σὲ δὲ ἴδμεναι αὐτὸν ὀΐω.

For I tell you, neither am Ι one who has forgotten his war strength
but among the foremost, along the fighting where men win glory,
I take my stand, whenever the quarrel of battle arises.
Let my fighting be forgotten by some other bronze-armoured
Achaian. You are the very one I think must know of it.

XIII 269–273

Idomeneus answers that he knows Meriones is brave. He describes how to tell the difference between a brave man and a coward, and he concludes thus:

ἀλλ᾽ ἄγε, μηκέτι ταῦτα λεγώμεθα νηπύτιοι ὣς
ἑσταότες, μή πού τις ὑπερφιάλως νεμεσήσῃ

But come, let us no longer stand here like nēputioi
talking of these things, lest some man arrogantly blame us.

XIII 292–293

That is, questions of kleos cannot be resolved in talk. They must turn to action. Talking “like nēputioi “ is inappropriate talking. Talking, which should be a form of social connection, becomes, when it is talking “like a nēputios,” a form of social disconnection. {83|84}

The “lesson” on which the Odyssey is founded is the story of Agamemnon’s return, his death at the hands of Aigisthos and Klytemestra, and the vengeance of Orestes. Zeus himself recites this “lesson” at the beginning of the Odyssey (i 32–43). He says:

ὢ πόποι, οἷον δή νυ θεοὺς βροτοὶ αἰτιόωνται!
ἐξ ἡμέων γάρ φασι κάκ᾽ ἔμμεναι· οἱ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ {84|85}
σφῇσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὑπὲρ μόρον ἄλγε᾽ ἔχουσιν

Oh for shame, how the mortals put the blame on us
gods, for they say evils come from us, but it is they, rather,
who by their own recklessness win sorrow beyond what is given …

i 32–34

The gods had advised Aigisthos not to kill Agamemnon, but he did not heed that advice. As I said above, Odysseus must get rid of two groups of men in order to emerge as warrior-hero: his companions and the suitors. His men perish spheterēsin atasthaliēsin (“by their own recklessness,” i 7). The suitors perish, having done an atrocious deed atasthaliēsi kakēsi (“in evil recklessness,” xxiv 458). Divine advice is abundant in the Odyssey. Not only does Hermes advise Aigisthos and Athene Telemachos, but sea nymphs advise Menelaos and Odysseus, Proteus advises Menelaos, Hermes advises Odysseus how to avoid Kirke’s evil magic, and Kirke in turn advises him how to complete his journey, Athene advises Odysseus how to overcome the suitors. There is a folk-tale-like, direct quality to most of this advice. Those who follow it succeed.

It is usually human advice to humans, however, that is the context of the word nēpios. It is Odysseus who advises his men not to eat the cattle of the Sun, even though he is relying on divine advice (i 6, xii 320–323). When Menelaos’s steward hesitates to admit Telemachos and Peisistratos, Menelaos advises him that only a nēpios would refuse to offer guest-friendship (iv 31 ff.). When Odysseus advises his men to leave the land of the Kikones, they are not persuaded (ix 44). Odysseus’s men had advised him not to stay in the Kyklops’s cave, but he was not persuaded (ix 273, cf. 224–228). The suitors did not take the advice of Telemachos, Mentor, Theoklymenos, or anyone else that they should leave (xxii 32, 370). Eupeithes did not take Mentor’s advice that he should not fight against Odysseus (xxiv 469).

Divine advice in the Iliad is based less on moral considerations and usually serves the more immediate purposes and passions of individual gods, e.g. Zeus’s deception of Agamemnon and Athene’s deception of Hektor. Athene’s advice to Achilles that he should not draw his sword against Agamemenon was not a prescription for Achilles’s success but served the end of preserving both Agamemnon and Achilles because Hera loved them equally. {85|86}

There is a similar absence of simple moralism in contexts of human advice-giving and advice-taking in the Iliad. More often than not, people are nēpios because they follow the advice of their leader who is also nēpios. Consider Asios and his men (XII 108 ff.). He chooses not to do as the rest of the Trojans and attack the Achaian walls on foot; he will attack with his horses:

νήπιος, οὐδ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἔμελλε κακὰς ὑπὸ κῆρας ἀλύξας
ἳπποισιν καὶ ὄχεσφιν ἀγαλλόμενος παρὰ νηῶν
ἂψ ἀπονοστήσειν προτὶ Ἴλιον ἠνεμόεσσαν.

nēpios, who by the ships in the pride of his horses and chariot
was not destined to evade the evil spirits of destruction
nor ever to make his way back again to windy Ilion.

XII 113–115

Asios’s men follow him:

… τοὶ δ᾽ ἅμ᾽ ἕποντο
ὀξέα κεκλήγοντες· ἔφαντο γὰρ οὐκέτ᾽ Ἀχαιοὺς
σχήσεσθ᾽, ἀλλ᾽ ἐν νηυσὶ μελαίνῃσιν πεσέεσθαι·
νήπιοι …

… and his men followed
screaming aloud, since they thought the Achaians no longer
would hold, but that they would be driven back on their dark ships,

XII 124–127

The followers of the doomed Hektor suffer under a similar contamination. When Hektor makes the fatal decision not to return to Troy, but to encamp on the field of battle, his army assents:

ὣς Ἕκτωρ ἀγόρευ᾽, ἐπὶ δὲ Τρῶες κελάδησαν,
νήπιοι· ἐκ γάρ σφεων φρένας εἵλετο Παλλὰς Ἀθήνη.

So spoke Hektor, and the Trojans thundered to hear him;
nēpioi, since Pallas Athene had taken away the wits from them.

XVIII 310–311

In a similar passage, Hektor has encouraged his men to seize the corpse of Patroklos and has promised half the spoils to the successful:

… μάλα δέ σφισιν ἔλπετο θυμὸς
νεκρὸν ὑπ᾽ Αἴαντος ἐρύειν Τελαμωνιάδαο,
νήπιοι· ἦ τε πολέσσιν ἐπ᾽ αὐτῷ θυμὸν ἀπηύρα.

… and inside each man the spirit was hopeful {86|87}
to get the body away from Telamonian Ajax.
Nēpioi, since over the dead man he tore the life out of many.

XVII 234–236

Later in the same book, Hektor has encouraged Aeneas to help him capture Achilles’s horses. They are joined by Chromios and Aretos:

ἤϊσαν ἀμφότεροι· μάλα δέ σφισιν ἔλπετο θυμὸς
αὐτώ τε κτενέειν ἐλάαν τ᾽ ἐριαύχενας ἵππους·
νήπιοι, οὐδ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἔμελλον ἀναιμωτί γε νέεσθαι
αὖτις ἀπ᾽ Ἀυτομέδοντος.

both together, and the spirit within each had high hopes
of killing the men and driving away the strong-necked horses;
nēpioi, who were not going to come back from Automedon
without the shedding of blood.

XVII 495–498

Although they follow advice, Hektor’s followers are nēpios because he is nēpios himself.

It is this sort of relationship Hektor wishes to find between Achilles and Patroklos. Patroklos is dying and Hektor boasts over him, calling him nēpios (XVI 833). He imagines Achilles advising Patroklos not to return until he has slain Hektor (XVI 839–842). In fact, the opposite happened. Patroklos has failed to take the advice of Achilles to leave battle after he has driven the Trojans away from the ships:

Πάτροκλος δ᾽ ἵπποισι καὶ Αὐτομέδοντι κελεύσας
Τρῶας καὶ Λυκίους μετεκίαθε, καὶ μέγ᾽ ἀάσθη
νήπιος· εἰ δὲ ἔπος Πηληϊάδαο φύλαξεν,
ἦ τ᾽ ἂν ὑπέκφυγε κῆρα κακὴν μέλανος θανάτοιο.

But Patroklos, with a shout to Automedon and his horses,
went after Trojans and Lykians in a huge blind fury.
Nēpios, had he only kept the command of Peleiades
he might have got clear away from the evil spirit of black death.

XVI 684–687

Since it is Achilles who must emerge as the warrior-hero, his companion Patroklos follows the same pattern as Odysseus’s men: he does not take the good advice of his leader.

Those who do not take good advice are nēpios. They disconnect themselves from their leaders and usually also their own lives as a consequence. On the other hand, those who give bad {87|88} advice are disconnected from their own future and success. Those who connect themselves with something disconnected are, of course, disconnected too.

Mental Disconnections

For the sake of discussion, I have made an artificial distinction between social disconnections and mental disconnections. In the first section of this chapter, I discussed disconnections that are primarily social. In this section, 1 shall speak of mental disconnections. The word nēpios obviously describes some kind of failure of mental perception. The juxtaposition of nēpios with forms of oida (“I know”) and noeō (“I perceive”) in the following examples should suffice to make this point:

νήπιος, οὐδὲ τὰ ᾔδη ἅ ῥα Ζεὺς μήδετο ἔργα.

nēpios, he did not know what things Zeus had planned.

II 38

νήπιος, οὐδὲ τὸ οἶδε κατὰ φρένα Τυδέος υἱός,
ὅττι μάλ᾽ οὐ δηναιὸς ὃς ἀθανάτοισι μάχηται

Nēpios, he does not know, Tydeus’s son,
that those who fight against the immortals are not long-lived.

V 406–407

νήπιος, οὐδ᾽ ἐνόησε κατὰ φρένα καὶ κατὰ θυμὸν
ὡς οὐ ῥηΐδι᾽ ἐστὶ θεῶν ἐρικυδέα δῶρα
ἀνδράσι γε θνητοῖσι δαμήμεναι οὐδ᾽ ὑποείκειν.

Nēpios, and the heart and spirit within him could not understand
how the glorious gifts of the gods are not easily broken
by mortal men, how such gifts will not give way before them.

XX 264–266

νηπίη, οὐδ᾽ ἐνόησεν ὅ μιν μάλα τῆλε λοετρῶν
χερσὶν Ἀχιλλῆος δάμασε γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη.

Nēpios, she did not know that far from the baths
Pallas Athene had vanquished him by the hand of Achilles.

XXII 445–446

νήπιος, οὐδὲ τὸ ᾔδη, ὃ οὐ πείσεσθαι ἔμελλεν·

Nēpios, he did not know that he was not about to persuade her.

iii 146 {88|89}

… τὸ δὲ νήπιος οὐκ ἐνόησεν,
ὥς οἱ ὑπ᾽ εἰροπόκων ὀΐων στέρνοισι δέδεντο

… but this, nēpios, he did not realize, that they
were bound beneath the breasts of his thick-wooled sheep.

ix 442–443

… τὸ δὲ νήπιοι οὐκ ἐνόησαν,
ὡς δή σφιν καὶ πᾶσιν ὀλέθρου πείρατ᾽ ἐφῆπτο.

… but this, nēpioi, they did not realize,
that over all of them the terms of death were now hanging.

xxii 32–33

In these passages, the word nēpios sounds like a reproach. “Fool!” it is usually translated. And yet, rationally, from our point of view, mostof these people had no way of knowing the thing they did not know. The most obvious example is Andromache. She is not a fool; she simply has not yet been informed of Hektor’s death. Or, how could Agamemnon have known what Zeus was planning? In this section, I shall try to find answers to these questions and also to make clearer why I speak of these failures of mental perception as mental disconnections.

A number of people in the Iliad are called nēpios because they put their trust in the wrong things. [13] Among them is Nastes, leader of the Karians:

ὃς καὶ χρυσὸν ἔχων πόλεμόνδ᾽ ἴεν ἠΰτε κούρη,
νήπιος, οὐδέ τί οἱ τό γ᾽ ἐπήρκεσε λυγρὸν ὄλεθρον,
ἀλλ᾽ ἐδάμη ὑπὸ κερσὶ ποδώκεος Αἰακίδαο {89|90}

Who came like a girl to the fighting in golden raiment,
nēpios, nor did this avail to keep back dismal death;
but he went down under the hands of swift-running Aiakides …

II 872–874

According to Hektor, the Achaians have misplaced their trust in their walls:

νήπιοι, οἳ ἄρα δὴ τάδε τείχεα μηχανόωντο
ἀβλήχρ᾽ οὐδενόσωρα· τὰ δ᾽ οὐ μένος ἁμὸν ἐρύξει·

Νēpiοi, who designed with care these fortifications,
flimsy things, not worth a thought, which will not keep back my strength.

VIII 177–178

Asios also made a fatal mistake, trusting in his horses and chariot:

νήπιος, οὐδ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἔμελλε κακὰς ὑπὸ κῆρας ἀλύξας
ἵπποισιν καὶ ὄχεσφιν ἀγαλλόμενος παρὰ νηῶν
ἂψ ἀπονοστήσειν προτὶ Ἴλιον ἠνεμόεσσαν·

Νēpiοs, who by the ships in the pride of his horses and chariot
was not destined to evade the evil spirits of destruction
nor ever make his way back again to windy Ilion.

XII 113–115

Priam’s youngest son Polydoros was dearest to his father and preeminent in foot-racing, but he was not saved by the things that distinguished him:

δὴ τότε νηπιέῃσι ποδῶν ἀρετὴν ἀναφαίνων
θῦνε διὰ προμάχων, ἧος φίλον ὤλεσε θυμόν.

But now in a nēpiοs way showing off his skill at running
he swept among the champions until thus he destroyed his dear life.

XX 411–412

These warriors are not guilty of having made tactical errors. Their errors lie somehow in this: the things in which they trusted gave each of them a kind of preeminence, made them glorious or in some way a fitting subject for song. They had thus a claim on life and fame. But gold, fortifications, horses and chariot, swiftness of feet are all mortal possessions. They are, like the body, ephemeral. Achilles makes the opposite mistake when he holds his shield far from his body:

νήπιος, οὐδ᾽ ἐνόησε κατὰ φρένα καὶ κατὰ θυμὸν
ὡς οὐ ῥηΐδι᾽ ἐστὶ θεῶν ἐρικυδέα δῶρα
ἀνδράσι γε θνητοῖσι δαμήμεναι οὐδ᾽ ὑποείκειν.

Νēpiοs, and the heart and spirit within him could not understand
how the glorious gifts of the gods are not easily broken
by mortal men, how such gifts will not give way before them.

XX 264–266

The others trusted in mortal, ephemeral things and perished. Achilles failed to trust in his divine, immortal armor.

Ephemerality appears again as a contextual associate of the word nēpiοs in Antinoos’s rebuke to Odysseus’s swineherd and cowherd: [14]

νήπιοι ἀγριῶται, ἐφημέρια φρονέοντες!

Nēpiοi, rustics, having your minds on ephemeral things!

xxi 85

Men are nēpiοs not because their reason fails to follow the proper course or their logic is faulty but because they think on ephemeral things. [
15] In the case of adult men, this seems to be a reproach. In the case of children, it is expected. It seems also to be the usual position of women (cf. XX 252 ff, where those who indulge in quarrelling are “like nēputioi”). Thus, when Andromache is called nēpiοs when she is preparing Hektor’s bath and does not know that he is dead (XXII 445-446), she is not being reproached. She is, in fact, doing just what Hektor has told her to do:

ἀλλ᾽ εἰς οἶκον ἰοῦσα τὰ σ᾽ αὐτῆς ἔργα κόμιζε,
ἰστόν τ᾽ ἠλακάτην τε, καὶ ἀμφιπόλοισι κέλευε
ἔργον ἐποίχεσθαι· πόλεμος δ᾽ ἄνδρεσσι μελήσει

Go therefore back to our house, and take up your own work,
the loom and the distaff, and see to it that your handmaidens
ply their work also; but the men must see to the fighting.

VI 490–492 {91|92}

Her work, perhaps unlike war, is ephemeral (a woman’s work is never done), and preparing Hektor’s bath is part of that work. There is pathos in the use of the word nēpios here. People who have their minds on ephemeral things are unaware of or forgetful of mortality.

Hektor is self-assured in his quarrel with Poulydamas because he has received a sign from Zeus. He says:

ὃς κέλεαι Ζηνὸς μὲν ἐριγδούποιο λαθέσθαι
βουλέων, ἅς τέ μοι αὐτὸς ὑπέσχετο καὶ κατένευσε·
τύνη δ᾽ οἰωνοῖσι τανυπτερύγεσσι κελεύεις
πείθεσθαι, τῶν οὔ τι μετατρέπομ᾽ οὐδ᾽ ἀλεγίζω, {92|93}
εἴτ᾽ ἐπὶ δεξί᾽ ἴωσι πρὸς ἠῶ τ᾽ ἠέλιον τε,
εἴτ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ἀριστερὰ τοί γε ποτὶ ζόφον ἠερόεντα.
ἡμεῖς δὲ μεγάλοιο Διὸς πειθώμεθα βουλῇ,
ὃς πᾶσι θνητοῖσι καὶ ἀθανάτοισιν ἀνάσσει.

You are telling me to forget the counsels of thunderous
Zeus, in which he himself nodded his head to me and assented.
But you: you tell me to put my trust in birds, who spread
wide their wings. I care nothing for these, I think nothing of them,
nor whether they go by on our right against dawn and sunrise
or go by to the left against the glooming mist and the darkness.
No, let us put our trust in the counsel of great Zeus, he who
is lord over all mortal men and all the immortals.

XII 235–242

Zeus had sent Iris to Hektor (XI 185 ff.) bearing the message that when Agamemnon retires from battle, Hektor will then be favored (n.b., it is Agamemnon, the other king, who must retire):

αὐτὰρ ἐπεί κ᾽ ἢ δουρὶ τυπεὶς ἢ βλήμεμος ἰῷ
εἰς ἵππους ἅλεται, τότε τοι κράτος ἐγγυαλίξει
κτείνειν, εἰς ὅ κε νῆας ἐϋσσέλμους ἀφίκηαι
δύῃ τ᾽ ἠέλιος καὶ ἐπὶ κνέφας ἱερὸν ἔλθῃ.

But when, either struck with a spear or hit by a flying arrow,
he springs up behind his horses, then Zeus guarantees power to you
to kill men, till you make your way to the strong-benched vessels,
until the sun goes down and the blessed darkness comes over.

XI 206–209

Zeus intentionally deceives Hektor, but he does not lie to him. [
17] Hektor is successful, in general, for the remainder of that day. It is during the night that he has his quarrel with Poulydamas (XVIII 284 ff.) and he has forgotten that Zeus had said that he would favor him for that day.

Just as Zeus deceived Hektor, but did not lie to him, so he deceives Agamemnon—by telling him the truth in a misleading way. The oulos oneiros (“baneful dream”) that Zeus sends tells Agamemnon that he will now take the city of the Trojans. And, indeed, the war is in its tenth year and the city will soon be taken. But the dream leaves Agamemnon thinking that he would take it that very day: {93|94}

ὣς ἄρα φωνήσας ἀπεβήσετο, τὸν δ᾽ ἔλιπ᾽ αὐτοῦ
τὰ φρονέοντ᾽ ἀνὰ θυμὸν ἃ ῥ᾽ οὐ τελέεσθαι ἔμελλον
φῆ γὰρ ὅ γ᾽ αἱρήσειν Πριάμου πόλιν ἤματι κείνῳ,
νήπιος, οὐδὲ τὰ ᾔδη ἅ ῥα Ζεὺς μήδετο ἔργα·

So he spoke and went away, and left Agamemnon
there, believing things in his heart that were not be be accomplished.
For he thought that on that very day he would take Priam’s city;
nēpiοs, who knew nothing of all the things Zeus planned to accomplish.

II 35–38

Zeus relies on Agamemnon to misinterpret the prophecy.

Both Agamemnon and Hektor are kings. Both, by virtue of this position, are diotrephēs (“Zeus-nurtured”). Odysseus, cautioning the army, says of Agamemnon:

θυμὸς δὲ μέγας ἐστὶ διοτρεφέων βασιλήων,
τιμὴ δ᾽ ἐκ Διός ἐστι, φιλεῖ δέ ἑ μητίετα Ζεύς.

For great is the anger of god-supported kings
for their honor is from Zeus and wise Zeus loves them.

II 197–198

These two things, then, are characteristic of kings: they are under the special care of Zeus and they are prone to anger. These very things cause the third characteristic of kings: they are liable to be deceived.

Zeus, as patron of kings, has the characteristics of kings. He, too, is known to be quick to anger (e.g. XV 93–94). And he, too, can be deceived. Hera’s seduction of him in the fourteenth book is not the only example. When Agamemnon acknowledges that he was wrong in being angry with Achilles, he tells the story of the birth of Herakles. In this story, Zeus is deceived by Hera to swear an oath. The oath is, of course, a true oath, but Zeus thinks it will apply to Herakles. Hera arranges things so that it applies to Eurystheus instead.

Achilles says of Agamemnon when the messengers have come to lead off Briseis:

… ἦ γὰρ ὅ γ᾽ ὀλοιῇσι φρεσὶ θύει,
οὐδέ τι οἶδε νοῆσαι ἅμα πρόσσω καὶ ὀπίσσω.

… surely in ruinous heart he makes sacrifice {94|95}
and has not the wit to know past and future.

I 342–343

Kings do not know past and future, but seers do. Kalchas is described in the following way:

Κάλχας Θεστορίδης, οἰωνοπόλων ὄχ᾽ ἄριστος,
ὃς ᾔδη τά τ᾽ ἐόντα τά τ᾽ ἐσσόμενα πρό τ᾽ ἐόντα.

Kalchas, Thestor’s son, far the best of the bird interpreters,
who knew all things that were, the things to come and the things past.

I 69–70

The same thing is said of Poulydamas:

… ὁ γὰρ οἶος ὅρα πρόσσω καὶ ὀπίσσω

He alone knew the past and the future


Two other people in the Iliad and Odyssey are said to have this ability. One is Priam (III 108–110), and the other is one of the wise elders of Ithake, Halitherses (xxiv 451–452). Kalchas is “the best of the bird interpreters,” and Poulydamas bases his prediction of the Trojan defeat on a bird sign (XII 200 ff.). Halitherses is described in this way:

… γέρων ἥρως Ἁλιθέρσης
Μαστορίδης· ὁ γὰρ οἶος ὁμηλικίην ἐκέκαστο
ὄρνιθας γνῶναι καὶ ἐναίσιμα μυθήσασθαι.

… the aged hero Halitherses
Mastor’s son. He was far beyond the men of his generation
in understanding the meaning of birds and reading their portents.

ii 157–159

Priam, like Halitherses, is an old man, knows past and future, and is acquainted with bird signs. When he is about to leave Troy to recover the body of Hektor, he and Hekabe pray for a sign, and Zeus sends an eagle (XXIV 290 ff.).

The crucial difference between kings and seers is that kings do not know the past and future, but seers do. The way seers come to know these things is through divine revelation, specifically, in the Iliad and Odyssey, bird signs. Kings, on the other hand, in spite of the fact that they are favored by Zeus, are in a kind of profane {95|96} condition. As Achilles says of Agamemnon, “surely in ruinous heart he makes sacrifice” (I 342).

In XVII 19–32, Menelaos, standing over the body of Patroklos, warns Euphorbos to stay away. (1) He tells him not to boast. (2) He tells him that in the past he, Menelaos, slew Euphorbos’s brother Hyperenor (cf. XIV 516). (3) Therefore, he can slay him too. (4) He ends with the phrase quoted above. Achilles addresses Aeneas in a similar speech in XX 178–198. (1) He tells him he will receive no honor from Priam for killing Achilles. (2) He reminds him that once Aeneas was in his power. (3) But this time he will not be lenient. (4) He advises him not to fight. (5) He ends with the phrase quoted above. These two speeches follow precisely the same format. Significant for the interpretation of the word nēpios is that both contain an example from the past and a warning about the future. The nēpios person does not know the past and future, or cannot understand the connection between them.

The past provides an example of what the world is like, and therefore tells us something about the future. But the past does not tell us precisely what will be. Those Homeric figures who know past and present and future know it not because they are capable of making prudent deductions, but because the future is revealed to them, most especially by bird signs. Those to whom knowledge of {96|97} the future is not available are not dull-witted or stupid, they are in a profane condition. They have not received a divine revelation.

I have said that the limits expressed by the word nēpios are the limits of childhood, ignorance, and the profane condition. Childhood is, naturally, a time of ignorance: Penelope says of Telemachos, thinking of him as still a child, that he is nēpios and “knows nothing of war or council” (iv 818). But just as children are nēpios by nature in one respect, so men in general are nēpios in another. Heraclitus said:

ἀνὴρ νήπιος ἤκουσε πρὸς δαίμονος ὅκωσπερ παῖς πρὸς ἀνδρός.

a man is called nēpios beside God, just as a child (is called nēpios) beside a man.

Heraclitus fr. 79 DK

It is difficult for children to have a share in adulthood and it is difficult for men to have a share in divinity. The profane condition is the condition of most men. We do not know the future; we cannot make the connection between the past and future; we are mentally disconnected. Hence we make mistakes, and hence we die. Aristotle quotes Alcmaion saying:

τοὺς ἀνθρώπους … διὰ τοῦτο ἀπόλλυσθαι,
ὅτι οὐ δύνανται τὴν ἀρχὴν τῶι τέλει προσάψαι.

that men die for this reason, that they cannot connect
the beginning to the end.

Alcmaeon fr. B2 DK {97|98}


[ back ] 1. For nostos = “a return to light and life” see Frame 1977.

[ back ] 2. On the isolation of the warrior, see Dumezil 1970, especially chapter 2.

[ back ] 3. In contrast to the Odyssey, where the foster-father (Eumaios) reconnects the hero to home and family, the Iliad’s foster-father figure (Phoinix) tries but fails to serve as the agent of Achilles’s reconnection.

[ back ] 4. Compare the end of Oedipus’s opening speech in Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, which also suggests that someone just arrived in a new place is in a similar mental condition to a child: … μανθάνειν γὰρ ἥκομεν ξένοι πρὸς ἀστῶν, χἂν ἀκούσομεν τελεῖν. As foreigners and strangers we must learn from the local people and do as they direct. Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 12–13

[ back ] 5. See Simon 1974.

[ back ] 6. See Schwartz 1982 on PIE *k w sen(-w)- meaning “to give one thing for another.”

[ back ] 7. Chantraine 1963.II.128

[ back ] 8. For a discussion of this situation as a formal type, see Muellner 1976.

[ back ] 9. See Nagy 1979.

[ back ] 10. Detienne 1973.20, citing XX 200 ff., says, “En définitive un homme vaut ce que vaut son logos.” (By “logos,” he means the words about him, his fame.)

[ back ] 11. This is the import of Patroklos’s speech to Meriones (XVI 628–631). When talking starts, fighting stops. Thus the speeches between Diomedes and Glaukos (VI 122 ff,), the subject of which is myth and genealogy, cause the two warriors to agree not to fight one another. Furthermore, this latter incident is the end of Diomedes’s aristeia. Conversely, when fighting stops, poetry begins. Achilles, who has vowed not to rejoin the fighting, is found by the embassy from Agamemnon sitting by the sea and singing of the deeds of men (IX 185–191).

[ back ] 12. On the conventional use of nēpios in oracles, see note 13 below. Cf. Hymn to Apollo 532.

[ back ] 13. An occurrence of the word nēpios in the context of misplacement of trust not included in this list is XX 293–296. In this passage, Poseidon worries that Aeneas has misplaced his trust in Apollo’s promise, for Apollo will not save him. Poseidon saves him, himself, even though Aeneas is on the Trojan side. This is a curious intervention. For one thing, Apollo has not promised Aeneas anything. It is, rather, the type of scene in which Aeneas is playing a part that promises intervention by Apollo (see discussion, above, of interchanges involving boasts, threats, and the word nēputios; both Hektor and Agenor are removed from such scenes by being wrapped in a mist by Apollo). For another thing, what is trustworthy if not the word of Apollo? But misinterpretations of Apollo’s word are a theme in Greek literature (e.g. Sophocles OT and throughout Herodotus Histories). Furthermore, there is evidence that the oracle was accustomed to address advice-seekers with the word nēpios. Herodotus gives two examples (1.85.2, VII.169.2). See below on humans as nēpios in the context of knowing the future.

[ back ] 14. Compare this line from Pindar: ὦ τάλας ἐφάμαρε, νήπια βάζεις O wretched ephemeral creature, you utter nēpiοs words … Pindar fr. 157 S

[ back ] 15. The ephemeral nature of man is a standard epic theme (VI 146 ff., XXI 464 ff., etc.). Aristophanes uses the word ephēmerioi in parodies of epic diction (e.g. Birds 687, Clouds 223). See Dover’s commentary on Clouds 223.

[ back ] 16. Hektor calls Poulydamas nēpios at XVIII 295. Obviously, he wants to believe that his own view of the future is accurate and that Poulydamas is wrong. But, more important, he says: νήπιε, μηκέτι ταῦτα νοήματα φαῖν᾽ ἐνὶ δήμῳ.nēpios, no longer show these thoughts among our people. XVIII 295 He does not want Poulydamas to disconnect his followers from him.

[ back ] 17. Significantly, when Asios (who plays the role of disagreeing “king” in response to Poulydamas’s first advice) realizes that he has made a fatal mistake, he calls on Zeus as his deceiver (XII 164–165).

[ back ] 18. The α scholiast on XVII 32: φιλόσοφος ἡ γνώμη (“the saying is philosophical).

[ back ] 19. παθὼν δέ τε νήπιος ἔγνω# (Hesiod Works and Days 218)